By Miriam Rodriguez
WSMR Public Affairs
White Sands Missile Range Garrison Commander Col. M. Ryan Howell will soon be leaving WSMR for his next assignment as the Chief of Staff for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team at Detroit Arsenal Army Base in Warren, Michigan.
Garrison Commander reflects on his time at WSMR
White Sands Missile Range Garrison Commander Col. M. Ryan Howell will soon be leaving WSMR for his next assignment as the Chief of Staff for the Next Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team at Detroit Arsenal Army Base in Warren, Michigan. In this article he reflects on his time at WSMR.
“Unfortunately, COVID has defined most of my time here at White Sands. So, when I look back on it, a lot of my highlights are centered around how resilient and flexible the Garrison Team has been,” Howell said. “We weren’t able to telework like the rest of the installation because we can’t provide food services, childcare or police and fire services on telework status.”
Howell said most of the Garrison Team had to come into work to support the community with their needs and to accomplish the WSMR mission.
“We had to find new and creative ways to interact with the community and the public and still provide those services.”
Howell said it was very humbling for him to arrive at WSMR during the COVID-19 Pandemic but still be able to do things for the community because of the support from the Garrison Team.
“We provided things such as the drive-in movie or something as simple as providing take-out food.”
Howell said employees who work for the Fire Department and Security were here in person every day because they are mission essential, and the Garrison Team needed to be here to provide services to them.
“The fact that we were still able to do all the functions that are part of our job of supporting the White Sands Community in a COVID environment was really humbling for me,” Howell said.
Howell said one of the things that surprised him the most was the number of times someone would come up to him and say something along the lines of ‘I don’t envy your job’, or ‘I’m glad I don’t have your job’.
Howell said it took him a while to formulate a response to that sentiment, where he hoped people would say the opposite.
“Hopefully, in my time here I’ve been able to show members of the team and the community that everyone should want to be the Garrison Commander. Because when you think about it the Garrison Commander is supposed to be providing those services for the community and making the community safe and give the workforce and people who work here the ability to do their jobs and keep them safe and enable them to be successful. At the end of the day, we are fulfilling the Army mission and WSMR is testing the future and the technology that enables the nation to fight and win its wars. The Garrison is enabling that testing to happen and taking care of the families, the workforce, visitors, and the community.
Howell said everyone should be working and striving to make WSMR a better place.
“I think that if we all looked at it from that perspective, and focused on the positive, we should all want to be Garrison like, and we should all have this service mind set where we all volunteer and we are all here to serve our nation and the greater good.”
Howell, an armor officer by profession, said he chose to be a Garrison Commander.
“Normally with my career field I would be at a place like Fort Bliss doing armor and calvary things, but I chose to be a Garrison Commander because I feel like I got to a point in my career where I have been a consumer of resources. Most of the workforce is a consumer of resources, and that is how it is supposed to be, but I wanted to find a way to be a person that could give back to the Army.”
“We all get to a point in our careers where we know that we are going to retire one day, and I wanted to do something that I could tie directly to giving back to the Army community.”
“That has probably been the biggest growth thing for me – to know that I chose to go into this job and then to have had the ability to do that over this period of two years, which to me was very rewarding.”
Especially during COVID, Howell said that maintaining the ability to provide those services and finding new and creative ways to give back to the community was fulfilling.
“The biggest reward for me has been spending time with my family and watching my daughter grow up as a member of this community.”
“Personally, I have been able to watch my daughter grow. When we got here, she was barely over a year old and as we are leaving, she is going to be a little over three years old. The change in her through that time stands out to me, to just be able to watch her grow and to see how we grew as a family,” Howell said.
Speaking professionally, Howell said he is always trying to be a good steward of government resources.
“I feel very confident that from the time I arrived until now as I am getting ready to go out the door, and in working with some of the other members of the WSMR team, we as a Garrison have found better ways to use our limited resources, specifically from a budget perspective. I feel more confident, leaving here that we are truly making our dollars count. We are putting our resources where they need to be.”
Howell said there have been a few times in his career where he joked that he could have stayed at home, slept in, came in to work for a few hours and then go back home and go to bed, because the team was so good at what they do that they didn’t really need him.
“I would say the same thing about the Garrison Team here,” Howell said. “I want to believe that I enabled them to be successful, but the good news is the Garrison Team and the way it is set up, they didn’t need me to be successful. It gives me an immense sense of comfort knowing that as I leave, transitioning to the new Garrison Commander is not going to disrupt the ability of this team because they have this impressive skill to just manage transitions in a way where there might just be a hiccup, but it is generally transparent to most people.”
“As far as their ability to do their mission it has been very humbling to see this team as I was accepted and integrated into the team and now as I’m leaving, they are integrating new members of the team in a very seamless way.”
“That speaks to their character and their professionalism and their ability to essentially run a small city located on the largest piece of military land mass.”
Howell, who grew up in a small community, said it is amazing to see everything WSMR accomplishes because it is such a small community.
“You may not know the person’s name, but you know their face or where they live or work. It has been awesome to live in a community like this.”
He said the WSMR community has been amazing.
“If you think about the things we asked the community not to do during the pandemic, they were very supportive. We did put a lot of constraints on the community, and they understood and were equally professional in the way they protected themselves and the community during the height of the pandemic.”
When the conditions allowed, Howell said they were able to reduce the restrictions on the community and they were very receptive of that.
“It was a very frustrating time and people were frustrated but never in a way that it made my job more difficult than it needed to be.”
Howell said he is excited for the community as they enter a new phase where they will be able to go out and do more things.
“It is a great community, and I am hopeful they will be able to enjoy this new phase with more community activities.”
“The community maintained the level of discipline that allowed us to feel very protected here. We are remote and isolated and that brings unique challenges, but this community stepped up to that challenge. That was always very helpful for me.”
Howell said leaving WSMR will be bittersweet. “My family and I have made a lot of great friends. I look forward to the continued success of White Sands. It has been great to be a member of this community.”